Redskins Defend Name in TTAB to Protect Trademark Rights

Closeup of American Football on Field Los Angeles – The Washington Redskins asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to dismiss six petitions to cancel filed by a group of Native Americans, arguing that there is no evidence to support the group’s claim that a considerable percentage of Native Americans find the team’s name offensive.

At the hearing held last Thursday, the group of Native Americans argued that the NFL team’s name, former fight song, cheerleader outfits and halftime shows illustrate the team’s disparaging and offensive treatment of Native Americans.

The Washington Redskins’ countered that its name is associated with the team, football and the entertainment it provides at games and claimed that it has never used the name in order to perpetuate an ethnic slur or disparage Native Americans in any way.

The Redskins and the TTAB both pointed out that Native Americans would have had to have found the term Redskins offensive at the time the trademarks were registered in order for the Redskins trademark protection to be cancelled.  The six trademarks in question were registered between 1967 and 1990.

The Redskins argued that a group of five Native Americans claiming that the name is offensive is not evidence that the term is offensive to a significant amount of the Native American population.  Nor does the opinion of the five petitioners offer any evidence that Native Americans were offended by the name during the 23-year period when the trademarks were registered.

The Native Americans told the three-judge panel that the Redskins’ six trademarks they are petitioning fall under provisions of the Lanham Act that prohibit any trademark that is disparaging from being registered.

“We are focused on the word ‘Redskin’ and no other matter,” the Native American group argued.  “‘Redskin’ is an ethnic slur.  It is an epithet.”

Though the TTAB cannot prevent the team from using the name, the Native Americans hope that if the team loses trademark protection, it will be persuaded to rebrand the team.

The petitions, filed in 2006, are the second attempt to cancel the Redskins’ trademarks.  In 1992, a group of seven Native Americans petitioned to cancel the trademarks.  The TTAB granted the petition in 1999, but the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturned it in October 2003 ruling that the petitioners did not have standing to complain because they did not take legal action until 25 years after the first trademark registered.

It could take up to a year for the TTAB to make a decision on the current petitions.




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